Create Your Own Volunteer Experiences

A few years ago, when I started looking into getting involved in my community, I wrongly assumed that it'd be easy to do unpaid work for a good cause. Like many people in my position, I discovered that the process was often difficult and the opportunities were scarce.

On occasion, good timing has led me to places that fit -- assisting with fundraisers for the Council for Senior Centers and Services, literacy tutoring with kids in Brooklyn -- but, for the most part, I found that I was spending a lot of time trying to be considered for unfulfilling experiences where my impact felt less than tangible.

Last year, I was living in Kumasi, Ghana with a family friend's family. Because of the father's relationship with the staff of the local orphanage, they allowed me to work there without being in a program. If you've ever tried to volunteer overseas, you'll understand how fortunate this was; most volunteer abroad programs come with a steep fee, which prices most young people out of the experience.

The month that I spent at the Kumasi Children's Home, working directly with kids, from morning to evening, solidified my eagerness to really get involved when I got back to the States.

But that was luck.

In the hunt for volunteer work, a common scenario is that people are quickly discouraged and give up their search. Even if they're able to find something that works with their schedule, the likelihood that they'll land somewhere doing work that they're passionate about is slim.

My solution to this problem was to create a program and apply for a grant to fund it. A few months after I'd returned from Ghana, a friend of mine introduced me to grant writing when I was helping her put together an educational project. Once I realized that it was relatively straightforward, I did some freelance grant writing for a few businesses and a non-profit, as a much needed supplement to my income.


"Our predecessors have labeled us the 'selfish generation' but, in my experience, most millennials have a genuine desire to get involved, in a hands-on way."

Because promoting literacy and empowering children -- girls, in particular -- is especially important to me, I put together a plan to run a summer reading camp for 5th grade girls in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

You'll certainly find that, for some grants, you'll be up against a lot of competition. But the reality is that, if your idea is legitimate, there's plenty of money and resources available to you. Of the 600+ applicants competing for a share of the Citizens Committee of New York City grant funds, that I was approved for, around 300 of them were rewarded at least some of what they asked for.

Step one: design a program or even a single-day event and find a grant to fund it.

I'm sure you or someone you know has great ideas about what your community needs. How can you implement them?

Our predecessors have labeled us the "selfish generation" but, in my experience, most millennials have a genuine desire to get involved, in a hands-on way, there's just a lot of confusion about how to do that.


"Peer pressure your friends into getting involved."

Most of the young people I know are cash-strapped and they can't donate money but they're willing to donate their time to causes they're interested in and, more specifically, causes they feel they can be an effective contributor to. According to a report done by the Millennial Impact Project, last year, "77 percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to volunteer when their personal skill set served to benefit the cause itself."

Step two is, once you've figured out how to get involved, peer pressure your friends into getting involved, also.

I've seen a lot of people complain that people should only do good deeds in private, and I disagree. This isn't to say that the world needs to know about every kind hearted thing that you do; you don't need to snapchat yourself handing money to a homeless person or live tweet your experience helping an old lady cross the street. But peer influence plays an important part in motivating young people to get involved.

Sixty-five percent of employed millennials said they would be more likely to volunteer if their colleagues also participated.

The more I talked about the program, the more enthusiastic people around me became about helping me with what I was doing or doing something on their own.

Benevolence, I've found, can be contagious.

So, what can you contribute to your community? Math tutoring? Nutrition and fitness seminars? Job interview classes? A dress shirt and blouse drive, so they'll have something to wear to those job interviews?

Something more abstract?

I challenge you, today, to at least consider how your unique capabilities could benefit the people around you.